The former Bank of England governor has slammed Brexit preparations as “incompetent” and said it “beggared belief” that the world’s sixth-biggest economy is talking of stockpiling food and medicines.
“It doesn’t tell us anything about whether the policy of staying in the EU is good or bad, it tells us everything about the incompetence of the preparation for it,” Lord Mervyn King told the BBC.
Lord King said the government’s 11th-hour preparation for a no-deal Brexit had undermined its bargaining power in negotiations that could have “catastrophic outcomes”.
“We haven’t had a credible bargaining position, because we hadn’t put in place measures where we could say to our colleagues in Europe, ‘Look, we’d like a free-trade deal, we think that you would probably like one too, but if we can’t agree, don’t be under any misapprehension, we have put in place the measures that would enable us to leave without one’,” he said.
The Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) told the corporation that getting a good deal with the EU was “by far, the most likely outcome” and that it was “focused on negotiating a deal of unprecedented scope and ambition”.
The DExEU spokesperson added that the “vast majority” of the Withdrawal Agreement had now been agreed, “and we are making further progress on the outstanding separation issues”.
Lord King predicted that the UK would find itself with what’s been dubbed as Brino – Brexit in name only – which he said was the worst case scenario and something that could drag on for years.
“I think the biggest risk to the UK, and this is what worries me most, is that this issue isn’t going to go away, you know the referendum hasn’t decided it, because both camps feel that they haven’t got what they wanted.”
Lord King told the BBC he was surprised it was more difficult for the UK to present a united front, than it was for the other 27 EU members.
“The EU has been united, has been clear, has been patient and it’s the UK that’s been divided without any clear strategy at all for how to get to where we want to go,” he said.
Lord King added that the current level of debate around Brexit was “depressing” and was overshadowing the “biggest economic problems facing the UK”, like the pension system, the NHS and providing for the elderly.
“These are the big economic challenges we face, but are they being discussed at present in an open way?
“No, because the political debate has been completely taken up by Brexit. It’s a discussion where both sides seem to be throwing insults at each other.”
Lord King’s comments come as Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham on Wednesday called for Brexit to be postponed, if a no-deal scenario seems likely.